Global warming isn’t waiting for geopolitics to cool down.
The United Nations General Assembly has opened its 77th session amid pressing global challenges, including environmental disasters, economic instability, shortages of basic food and fuel, culture wars and populist nationalism, and internal and international conflicts. But as world powers clash and collide over Ukraine (and Taiwan), their geopolitics undermine the UN agenda and stall the multilateral cooperation needed to address the many planetary crises.
Well over a hundred leaders have arrived in New York, including two notable absentees – the Russian and Chinese leaders – and two notable attendees – the US and British leaders, who are expected to resolutely and fervently oppose the Russian war in Ukraine and in Ukraine speak support of the practically present Ukrainian leader.
All eyes will be on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been granted special permission to address the world parliament via video link, just as he has done before various national parliaments this year. His army’s successful counter-offensive against Russian aggression in recent weeks will reinforce his words as they echo through the UN chamber.
In his speech at the United Nations last year, Zelenskyy urged world leaders to “wake up” and face the daunting challenges he and other countries face, but the world marched with eyes wide open into an even greater one , deadlier conflict.
What becomes of this war will have a tremendous impact not only on Ukraine but on the entire world. And it could fall to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have worked closely with both sides since the Russian invasion, to come up with a proposal on how to end it. Their speeches at the United Nations could signal the feasibility of a solution.
Many world leaders would like to see a speedy resolution to the conflict so the UN can turn its attention back to other pressing issues, including Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Mali and Palestine.
The Russian war in Ukraine has already dominated the agenda of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), leaving no room for other pressing issues that require international attention. While the United Nations Security Council has made some headway on the diplomatic or humanitarian fronts in Libya, Yemen and Mali, it has failed miserably in Ukraine as world powers continue to use its platform to score points against one another.
Expect more of the same this week as dozens of world leaders, enamored with the sound of their own voices, turn the “high-level debate” into a low-level diatribe, boasting about their accomplishments or blaming others for their failures. Their speeches will include haughty words and alarming statements about the future of the planet, but pay only lip service to remedies, responsibilities and commitments.
And so Ukraine will continue to harden and deepen the rift between the United States and Europe to the west and Russia and China to the east. Given that the four make up about 60 percent of the world economy, and all the veto powers in the UNSC, expect their conflict and clash will drain the energies of the United Nations and cripple multilateralism that could help the world avoid global catastrophes deal with. They are also the world’s biggest polluters.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is right when he says that the Russian war in Ukraine has shown that we live in a world “rendered by brute power politics, where everything is armed,” in a bitter struggle of the narratives. However, to be clear, both Eastern and Western powers are responsible for these geopolitical tensions. Unfortunately, Western powers have not lived up to their high values and Eastern powers have failed to take their international responsibilities seriously, with both sides hypocritically citing international laws and norms only when it suits them.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres is also right when he says that “the choices we make – or don’t make – today could lead to further collapse and a future of perpetual crisis, or a breakthrough to a better, more sustainable, more peaceful one.” Future for our people and planet.” That will depend on the United Nations being united.
Exaggeration aside, we are better off as a human civilization than ever before in terms of quality of life, health, wealth, and life expectancy, as well as education, science, discovery, industry, technology, and so on. And we are better placed than ever to take on global challenges when the will is there.
But we have completely failed to care for the most vulnerable and less fortunate. A million more people have died needlessly from COVID-19 so far this year, long after vaccines were developed. And more than 800 million people are starving, or 150 million more people than before the pandemic.
And we’re also deliberately disappointing the younger generations as we pollute and abuse our planet, doing more damage to Mother Nature in recent decades than in previous millennia. The extraordinarily hot summer, devastating fires, floods and droughts can no longer be treated as unrelated random events.
Climate change is here and it’s real, and global warming won’t wait for geopolitics to cool down. Still, it’s not too late for world leaders to wake up and do the right thing, stop the fight and start healing. Where there’s a will, there’s a way forward.